Music News


The recent death of John Denver seemed to leave Colorado without a pop star whose resume included liquor-related arrests. But as it turns out, someone is already filling the gap: Rick Roberts, lead singer of Firefall.

According to a representative of the Boulder County Sheriff's Department, Roberts--whose Boulder-based group scored six smash singles, including the top-ten success "You Are the Woman," between 1976 and 1981--wound up in the hoosegow for failure to comply with probation imposed after a conviction for driving under the influence. (The department spokesman described him as a "habitual traffic offender.") Roberts is currently a resident of the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, a Department of Corrections facility where he will stay until being assigned to more long-term digs. But a few months back he was in the Boulder County Jail, where he shared space with J.T. Colfax, an eccentric artist cooling his heels for burning mail belonging to the family of JonBenet Ramsey. In a letter to Westword, Colfax described his encounter with Roberts in the most positive terms. The musician "was allowed to enter the pod I'm in...and bring a guitar with him. He played 'Strange Way,' two new songs and 'Just Remember I Love You' to wild applause from his fellow inmates." Colfax, born James Michael Thompson (like the former John Henry Deutschendorf, he changed his name to honor our town), notes that "some of the younger inmates didn't remember the Firefall hits, but they loved hearing some music. Otherwise the only song we really hear is that wretched 'Titan Up' theme from the insurance commercial." As Colfax tells it, Roberts subsequently told his listeners "to watch out for alcohol." I'm betting that the late Mr. Denver would have seconded that emotion.

For the (local) record.
Tom Sprenkle, a onetime Baldo Rex member, is the leader of aerosol, but the latter combo's nameless cassette sampler is more straightforward than the work of the late, lamented Rex. Low-fidelity tracks like "Take Your Head Off, Girl" and "20th Century Boy" have a Foo Fighters quality about them that's moderately entertaining, though not terribly innovative. Imperfect Thoughts, Imperfect Brain, an aerosol CD, contains both of the aforementioned ditties and ten other tracks with similar characteristics; they're not bad, but they're not all that different from other modern-rock tunes competing for your love and affection. Fortunately, Sprenkle is a good player, and given time, he may come up with something with a little more individuality (Apropos Records, 1630 30th Street #474, Boulder 80301). On its latest tape, a three-song, self-titled model, King Rat goes where it's gone before--directly into the heart of old-school punk. "Casual Dreams, "Fat Like You" and "Breaking Away" paint by numbers first written down in the mid-Seventies, giving them an unavoidably retro scent. But at least they're played hard, fast and rough, as such songs were meant to be rendered (Luke Schmaltz, 758-4855).

Neil Slade, a local composer like no other, has remastered and reissued a slew of his recordings under the umbrella title Beat the Meetles, and their variety provides a well-rounded picture of an idiosyncratic, sometimes difficult talent. Invisible Music, originally issued in 1982, frequently resembles a random rehearsal tape, with tunes stopping and starting and musicians gabbing off-mike; in addition, the drums sound like pots and pans being dropped down a flight of stairs. There are entertaining moments of free invention here--Slade's work on saxophone can be striking--but this is more of a curio than a legitimate album. Piano Impressions From Another Dimension, from the same year, is infinitely more accessible, a smooth and slinky concoction during which Slade generally plays by the rules. As such, there aren't a lot of surprises, but Slade's work on keyboards and reeds is consistently pleasant. Amygdala Brainbites, a CD by one of Slade's groups, the Brain Revolutionaries, that was reviewed by yours truly back in 1994, remains a spiffy pop concoction whose production quality is unimpeachable; it's purely entertaining, without too much intellectual baggage. Tippy, a cassette you might have read about in 1996, continues in this tradition but contains a number of curveballs, including "Concerto for Saxophone, 1st Mov.," an ambitious and largely successful opus. Finally, there's Parallel Universes: The People's Suite for Symphony Orchestra/Mind Music, in which Slade tries his hand at classical music. The piece is undermined to some degree by the absence of an actual orchestra: The work is computer-driven, with Slade the sole instrumentalist. But even with this drawback, it remains a vital statement--sometimes sweeping, sometimes witty, always intelligent. Give Slade credit: He may be a Denver Don Quixote, but he isn't about to let those windmills get the best of him (399-0419).

The name of the band Bernie & the Boomers is an appropriate one, because the music on the CD If You Knew consists of the sort of mellow singer-songwriter fare that you can imagine being made by a cast member of thirtysomething. While "My Brother From Buffalo" and "The Beach" are inoffensive enough, tracks such as "Fool's Gold," "Prettier" and the title cut are so overtly sensitive that they make the prose in Hallmark cards seem like prime Ernest Hemingway by comparison. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee (Bernie & the Boomers, 1873 South Bellaire Street, Suite 700, Denver 80222). Grace, by Flowers of Aphrodite, is the sort of CD I normally would despise; not only are the title and the band name mondo pretentious, but many of the lyrics consist of unintentionally funny new-age homilies like "I look into the eyes of a wolf/Amber light shines into/My deep brown earthness." So I was caught off-guard by the intriguing music it contains. Leader Rachel Baird may take herself way too seriously, but she's got a throaty voice, a feel for a good hook and a knack for weaving gypsy rhythms and other world-music affectations (see the extended conclusion of "Shake") into Western formats. "See the Light of Mother," the Kate Bush-like "Wish" and "Spider in the Well" snuck up on me, and perhaps they might do the same to you. A good melody makes up for a multitude of sins (Rosebud Records, P.O. Box 4723, Boulder 80306).

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts